It’s a painful but soul-stirring adventure, but for the last 19 years, about a hundred people have welcomed the new year by screaming and running into the bone-chilling waters of Ashland’s Granite Street Reservoir at the upstream, south end of Lithia Park.

Why? The "Polar Bear Plunge" is some kind of strange, but thrilling ritual, they say, that seems to wipe clean the slate of the old year and boost spirits for the challenges of the new year.

“After this, how could anything get more difficult in the coming year?” says college student Amy Hoppins. “You’re ready to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning for the rest of the year. Nothing is more difficult than this. Strangely, it brought a big, spreading smile to my face.”

Just over 100 people counted down from 10, then dashed noisily into the bone-jarring waters of the reservoir on Ashland Creek at the top of Granite Street. Most sprang out of the water quickly and got hot coffee, cocoa, cookies and oranges.

“I look at it as a good way to reset and challenge yourself, outside of your comfort zone, at the start of the new year,” says Jared Cruce. “It’s cleansing, vibrant, energizing and a lot of fun. It’s great to see other Ashland people, the same type of people in this town who have that attitude of going for it and celebrating the joy of life.”

Ben Frederick of Ashland called it “a great way to rinse off last year. Everything that didn’t work last year is gone. You are open to be renewed. It’s like a ceremonial celebration where you purge yourself in cold water and embrace what’s ahead.”

Cruce and Frederick offered on-site hot showers and a dip in their Hydro Hammock, which looks like a regular hammock but is filled with toasty water, heated with a propane-and-battery system and marketed at hydrohammock.com in Ashland.

Organizers of the dip collect donations which are given to area nonprofits.

Frederick calls the swim "cryotherapy" (cryo means cold), noting it boosts the immune system and is good for the skin.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.